The Corner

Health Care

How Did the Waiting-to-Be-Used Vaccine Stockpile Increase by 11 Million in Five Days?

Dr. Michelle Chester from Northwell Health prepares to administer a Pfizer coronavirus disease vaccine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., December 14, 2020. (Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters)

Ugh. Yesterday I noted that the percentage of distributed vaccinations had declined from 83.9 percent on Monday to 75 percent Thursday, and the number of in-transit or unused doses increased from about 12.2 million doses Monday to 22.2 million doses Thursday.

This morning, the numbers are even worse. The percentage of administered doses is down to 74 percent, and the number of in-transit or unused doses is now up to 23.3 million doses.

As the mid February winter storms recede in our collective rearview mirror, “bad weather” makes less sense as an explanation for the building backlog. Pfizer and Moderna seem to have overcome weather-related issues to get the doses distributed to the states. So why is it so much harder to get the distributed doses administered?

Are we sure it’s just weather issues? In a scenario that should trigger flashbacks to the days of Healthcare.gov, Vice President Kamala Harris is doing a photo op at a Washington, D.C., pharmacy to encourage people to use the District of Columbia’s pharmacy vaccination registration website . . . the website crashed, then started sending erroneous messages telling people they weren’t eligible yet, and users quickly found all appointments had been booked.

Some states were less enthused about the Biden administration’s proposal for giant federally run vaccination centers when they learned those centers wouldn’t come with additional doses; states were expected to supply the doses from their own allocated stockpiles. States argued that offering more tents and cots and vaccinators but not more vaccines didn’t really help them much.

But . . . according to the data, some states have received plenty of vaccine doses and just haven’t gotten them into arms. Kansas has received 839,575 doses and hasn’t used 297,142 yet. Mississippi received 801,035 and hasn’t used 275,054 yet. Maryland received 1,795,785 doses and hasn’t used 596,642 yet. Biden’s home state of Delaware received 289,515 and hasn’t used 93,981 yet.

Pennsylvania received 3.6 million and still has 1.1 million waiting to be used. And Harris’s home state of California received 10.9 million and hasn’t used almost 2.9 million doses. Texas received 7.3 million and hasn’t used 2.27 million yet.

Yes, this is a complicated logistical effort and human errors will occur, and many of those doses are in transit, being distributed to the particular hospitals, medical centers, pharmacies, and other places where vaccinations are ongoing. But too many states remain a black box where lots of vaccines go in but a much smaller trickle gets into arms. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have used less than 75 percent of their allocated doses so far. This vaccination program began in mid December!

We have a country full of millions of people who want the vaccine, manufacturers pumping out doses as fast as they can, we’re in a race against new variants that are more contagious, and . . . somehow vast swaths of our national effort are at the mercy of some glitchy websites?

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